The Star Wars Holiday Special has attained a kind of mythic status in the annals of bad TV. Those who haven't seen it tend to exclaim, "Oh, come on! How bad can it be?" while those who have seen it stare back at them with the battle-hardened eyes of a Bataan veteran and say, "You have no idea."
Well, let me give you a bit of an idea. Here's the intro to this abomination. (Of course the video quality is awful; this only aired once in December 1978, and I think the intro alone gives you a pretty good idea of why it was just the one time.)
[All photos borrowed from StarWarsHolidaySpecial.com, a fan site whose devotion I can only genuflect before.]
The concept of the SWHS is simple, yet so profoundly flawed: Chewbacca is trying to get back to his home planet to celebrate Life Day with his family. Han is flying him there in the Milennium Falcon, but the Empire has blocked all ships and has a watch on Chewie's house.
First of all, the very idea of Chewbacca having a family strikes me as fundamentally wrong. I mean, sure, he had parents and maybe a sibling or two. But he's not what pops into your mind at the mention of the phrase "family man," is he? You'd think that the whole mercenary-of-the-galaxy lifestyle wouldn't exactly lend itself to marriage and a rugrat.
Then there's the matter of the family members themselves. Malla, I can buy as a Wookiee. I wouldn't be surprised to find a set of fully developed character sketches for a female Wookiee, and they seemed to put some thought into her costume. But Chewie's dad and son... Itchy and Lumpy? I barely know where to begin with their wrongness, but their names seem like as good a place as any. Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't there incidental characters in Leave It To Beaver with those very names?
And look at their costumes. Lumpy (Lumpy!) is bad enough; he looks like some cross-breeding project between an Ewok and Teddy Ruxpin. But what the hell is Itchy?? He's like the Cryptkeeper as a Wookiee or something. His mask alone is fodder for several nightmares, and the way the dude in the Itchy suit moves is equally creepy, with a lot of head-shaking and general gnarled-ness. If I knew Itchy was waiting at the end of the journey, I wouldn't be in any great hurry to get back for Life Day either.
Of course, the selection of Chewbacca as the "I'll be home for Life Day" hero becomes even more problematic when we are forced to watch the interaction of this family who converse the same way Chewie does: "Rrrrrrrr!" So for a full 10 minutes or so after the first commercial break, all we see is folks in fur suits pantomiming suburban family life and growling at each other. And that's it; no subtitles or anything. Just "Rrrrr!" "Rrrrrrr?" "Rrrrrr!" For 10 minutes. If the intro didn't impress the utter insanity of this show upon you, the interminable first scene should do the job.
And it's not like they're doing anything remotely interesting, either. The closest the first part comes to drama is when Lumpy, having been sent outside to take the trash out, climbs up on the railing around the family tree house. Jason and I cross our fingers that the little freak will fall off, possibly getting the plot moving in the process, but no such luck on either count. Nope, just chores, worrying, holographic acrobats to entertain the furry tyke and grunting. Lots and lots of grunting.
The fam makes a video call to Luke, who's working on some engine thing with R2-D2. They somehow communicate to him that Chewie is due home for Life Day but MIA thus far, and he essentially tells them, "Hang in there, fuzzy campers!" (Later in the show, a call to Leia and C-3PO will yield the same basic result.) Then they check in with a trader at the local general store, who -- Art Carney?
Dear Lord. There's some subterfuge about this dude communicating Chewie's whereabouts to the fam underneath the Imperial Guard's noses and it lasts for-freaking-ever. The upshot of the scene is that Trader Art says he'll come out and drop off some stuff to the fam later.
Then the hallucinogens clearly kick in as Malla watches a cooking show and attempts to make a Bantha roast or something. The show is hosted by, I kid you not, Harvey Korman as a four-armed chef in drag. The chef is one of three characters Korman does and it's the worst by far. This is probably the most painful segment to watch: the character is weird; the comedy is nonexistent; it adds absolutely nothing to an already turgid show.
At this point, Jason turns to me and says, "It's a good thing I don't remember watching this as a kid. If I'd stayed up late in my bathrobe and slippers and this had been on, I'd have been furious." I agree wholeheartedly, and we both observe a moment of silent sympathy for those poor children who did stay up late to watch this and how confused, terrified and just-plain-mad they must have been.
Trader Art arrives at Chez Chewie, and he has prezzies for everyone. Malla gets a video entertainment setup, Lumpy gets an electronic kit, and as for Itchy, Trader Art gives him a disc to play in the holographic viewer. This is a quote: "Now then Itchy, I thought you might like this. It's one of those uh... oh, it's a real... it's kinda hard to explain... WOW, if you know what I mean." Jason and I start to get nervous.
Soon, we see a conglomeration of lights and swimmers. (Yes, swimmers. We didn't get it either.) Before long, we see -- oh, dear, Diahann Carroll. From Julia to this? But then it takes a turn for the horrifying as she says: "I am found in your eyes only. I exist for you alone. I am in your mind as you create me. Oh, yes... I can feel my creation. I'm getting your message. Are you getting mine? Oh, oh... We are excited, aren't we?"
Jason and I are now gaping at the screen in horror. "Itchy's watching porn!" I gasp. Jason is equally outraged: "And in the living room! In front of God and everybody! What, is he going to start spanking it next?!" And then my beloved makes a series of appallingly imaginative gestures that I'm not even going to describe here. Fortunately, Diahann Carroll only sings a lame song about making "this moment" count or something. J and I breathe a colossal sigh of relief.
Hell, we're almost glad to see the Imperial Troopers, who stop by to make sure that all Wookiees are present and accounted for. The family stalls and says that Chewbacca is out for a walk or something. This scene lasts weeks. The Troopers won't leave; they keep searching the house for signs of Rebel activity; they get momentarily distracted by Malla's video machine that plays a song by the Jefferson Starship. Then they keep on searching and rummaging, and to keep Lumpy occupied, the fam gives him a cartoon to watch.
The cartoon is awful. The story is stupid; the characters barely look like human beings, let alone the actors who played them; it has no redeeming value except for one fact. This is the first appearance of Boba Fett. This craptacular cartoon. Sad, really.
The cartoon mercifully ends, then we're back to the equally bad special. The video screen at Chez Chewie announces that the following video footage is required viewing from the Empire. The universe's evil overlords have apparently decided that everyone needs to see a set piece from the bar on Tattooine. Which is owned and managed by Bea Arthur. No, I'm not making that up.
There's some dumb thing where Harvey Korman is hitting on her and striking out, then the Empire announces a curfew, so Bea has to kick everybody out of the bar. She sings an old-timey standard-type song in her trademark baritone as she's trying to get them to leave. Sample lyric: "You're such a dear friend/I'm always here, friend/[spoken] Is that a tear, friend?" Like everything else in this show, it makes no damn sense and has nothing to do with the holidays.
Finally, Chewie gets home! And there's some more pointless crap with the Troopers and Trader Art covering for the Wookiees and I am so past the point of caring about this damn plot. Suffice to say that all the good guys get together at the end for a celebration of Life Day (the most vaguely-named holiday of all time). What better way to celebrate than with song?
I can't really find too much fault with Carrie Fisher's voice; girl never claimed to be a singer. But good Lord, you can practically get a contact high just from watching her. Entire pharmacies were washing through her bloodstream while this was filmed (and I can't say as I can blame her, either; I'd be as wasted as possible if I had to take part in this). Check out how she both snuggles Chewie in a creepy, non-canon fashion and leans on him for support.
The special finishes with scenes from Star Wars, as if to say, "Hey! Remember the movie? It sure was fun, wasn't it! Let's try to end this on a positive note! Forget everything you've seen over the past two hours!"
Too late. Happy Life Day, y'alls.